Note: This lesson might require two or more weeks. My suggestion would be to cover verses 1-11 in week 1 and 12-30 in week 2.
1. What situation in the Philippian church might Paul be concerned about?
I think the issue was a developing disunity. The people were no longer like-minded. This is all too common as we seek to express our own viewpoints rather than God’s viewpoint on an issue. We are in an especially dangerous place when we begin to think that our viewpoint is God’s viewpoint.
2. What does Paul imply we should have or experience as followers of Jesus?
Paul uses the word “if” to proceed a number of things he is certain that we possess as followers of Jesus. The first is one of his common themes. We are united with Christ and we should be encouraged by that. We are in Christ and there are tangible benefits from being in that position. We are comforted with the knowledge that God loves us as demonstrated by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. We all have something in common. We have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. All of these things should result in us being tender and compassionate with one another.
3. What is Paul’s goal for the Philippians?
Paul’s goal is that the church in Philippi would be of one mind. “being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind” (v2) He wants their attitude to be reflected in their behavior.
4. What might prevent this goal from being achieved?
Pride and selfishness.
5. What is humility?
I love this quote from C.S. Lewis – “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” God wants us to have an accurate view of who He has created us to be. We don’t need to beat ourselves up for our mistakes and imperfections. What we do need to do is think about others more than we think about ourselves. Stephen Covey expresses it this way, “If I were to summarize in one sentence the single most important principle I have learned in the field of interpersonal relations, it would be this: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Pride says, “Me first.” While humility says, “You first.”
6. Why is humility essential for achieving the goal Paul has in mind?
Pride always prevents unity. We are all different and we see life from different perspectives. As long as our pride convinces us that our perspective is the right one, we will be unable to understand others and collaborate for the common good.
7. An alternate translation of verse 4 reads: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4 ESV) Why is it important to pay attention to our own needs? What should our motivation be for looking to our own needs?
If you’ve ever been on an airplane you’ve heard the instructions regarding a loss of cabin pressure. The instruction is clear and practical. Put on your own oxygen mask first and then put on the oxygen mask of anyone around you who needs help. If I don’t pay some attention to my own needs, I will not have the capability of helping to meet the needs of others. So, in order to help others I must pay attention to my own needs as well.
8. What word would describe placing our own needs below the needs of others?
Submission. The basic concept of submission is voluntarily placing yourself under another.
There is some thought that the verses above were or became an early Christian hymn. As with everything there is some debate about this. What is not debated is that this is one of the most beautiful passages of scripture in the New Testament.
1. What is the concern that Paul is dealing with as he writes these words?
It is the same concern Jesus dealt with over and over in His teaching of the disciples. We all seem to have a natural desire to be important, to be in charge. We might even think that everyone else would be better off if we were in charge. We don’t just want to be equal to everyone else, we want to be superior.
2. How do these words address that concern?
Jesus is the ultimate example of the opposite principle that He teaches over and over. Jesus is superior and chooses a position that most would regard as inferior. Paul shows us clearly who Jesus is and then how He chose to live and die.
3. Who is Jesus?
The original language in this section of scripture makes clear that Jesus was 100% God and 100% man. We don’t understand how this is possible, but that is what this passage says.
4. What is Jesus’ attitude?
Jesus does two things that show us His humility. The first is that He empties Himself. We don’t fully understand, but Jesus gives up some of the capabilities that He has outside a human body. For example, Jesus on earth can only be in one place at a time. God is everywhere all the time. Then, as a human being, Jesus chooses to take the role of a servant rather than the role of king. He is the King and has every right to that position. It was what everyone expected of Him, but He continually takes the role of a servant. John 13:1-17 is probably the best example of this principle.
5. Where did Jesus’ attitude take Him? Why is this significant?
Jesus’ humility and desire to serve took Him to the cross. This is significant because as followers of Jesus we should be prepared for a similar end. Jesus gave all He had, and we should be prepared to do the same.
6. What is the end of the story?
The crucifixion is not the end of the story. The resurrection isn’t the end of the story. Taking His position as King of Kings and Lord of Lords is the end of the story. God the Father honors Jesus and gives to Him authority over all creation.
7. What should be our attitude?
Followers of Jesus should be humble people who are continually searching for opportunities to serve.
8. Where should we be willing to go based on this attitude?
We should be willing to go wherever Jesus leads us.
9. What does God promise us as the end of our story? (see Revelation 22:1-6)
We are promised eternal life. In addition, we are promised that we will be kings. We will reign. I don’t understand what we will reign over, but the promise is clearly there.
1. What does it mean “to work out your salvation with fear and trembling?”
Salvation is a gift from God. It is something we receive rather than something we earn. However, we are saved for a purpose. We are saved in order that we can become as much like Jesus as possible. We are saved for good works. The Philippians seem to have gotten comfortable in their salvation. They were thinking less of their awesome and amazing God than they were their own position and prestige.
Proverbs repeats this concept many times:
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Proverbs 9:10 NIV)
The fear of the Lord is also used as a positive description of the early church:
Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers. (Acts 9:31 NIV)
We should never forget who we are in relation to God.
2. What is our purpose as long as we are God’s children on this earth?
Our purpose is to do good works and to become more like Jesus. (Ephesians 2:10 and Romans 8:29) We are to make God visible on earth in every way possible.
3. What attitude seems to be creeping into the Philippians church?
I think the answer is discontent that produces grumbling and selfishness. At the core of discontent is a lack of gratitude.
4. What is Paul’s goal for the Philippians in this section?
Paul wants the Philippians to be shining examples of people who are saved and full of joy as they serve one another and others.
5. Why is this so important to Paul?
This is what Paul taught them when he was with them. It is what he strives to be an example of. Paul’s entire life is dedicated to helping others come to know Jesus and then to become like Jesus. If the Philippians get it and live out what Paul is teaching them through word and example, then Paul will know that his life has been worth it.
6. How does Paul view his life?
Paul views his life as a living sacrifice. Paul is not trying to be filled up, but instead to be poured out. We sometimes talk of athletes leaving it all on the field. This was Paul. He wanted to die knowing that he had done everything he possible could for Jesus.
7. What attitudes result from Paul’s view of his life?
Gladness and joy that produces rejoicing.
1. What seems to be frustrating Paul?
Everyone around Paul is so distracted by their own interests that they have lost focus on what Jesus desires.
2. How is Timothy an example of what Paul is communicating?
Timothy is willing to put the interest of others before his own. In this case, he is willing to go on a mission for Paul.
3. What is Timothy’s role in the early church?
Based on this passage, the book of Acts, and Paul’s letters to Timothy he seems to be Paul’s troubleshooter. If a problem comes up in one of the churches Paul started, then Timothy is sent to take care of it. Timothy does not start any churches that we know of. Instead, he spends his time as a fixer of churches.
4. How would you feel if this was your role as a young leader?
Some people enjoy this role, but most young leaders want to start something. They want to build something that will bring them honor and prestige.
5. How long would it take for Timothy to get from Rome to Philippi?
The fastest journey from Roma to Philippopolis in April takes 29 days, covering 1952 kilometers. Prices in denarii, based on the use of a faster sail ship and a civilian river boat (where applicable), and on these road options: Per kilogram of wheat (by donkey): 17.9, Per kilogram of wheat (by wagon): 22.14, Per passenger in a carriage: 1052.5. The cost would be about $500 in today’s currency.
1. Epaphroditus was sent to Paul to take care of him. Why did Paul have to justify his return to Philippi?
It is possible that the Philippian church expected Epaphroditus to stay with Paul until he was either executed or released from prison. Sending Epaphroditus back to Philippi might be regarded by them as a failure. They could think that the person they sent was not up to the task. Paul wanted the church to know that he was okay and that it was time for Epaphroditus to return.
2. What happened to Epaphroditus while he was with Paul?
He became very sick. We are not told what the illness was, only that it was life threatening.
3. When Epaphroditus became sick why didn’t Paul just heal him?
None of the commentaries I looked at discussed this issue, so what follows is just my opinion. I think healing in the early church was used to confirm the power of God as a way of establishing a church in a new area. Healing Epaphroditus would not have fit this purpose. I have no question of God’s power to heal or even of God’s power to heal through Paul. God did heal Epaphroditus, but not on Paul’s timetable.
4. How is Epaphroditus an example of what Paul is communicating?
He was willing to accept the task that the church gave him and completed it even though his life was put at risk.
1. What concern is Paul addressing in this chapter?
Paul is addressing developing disunity that springs from discontent and self-interest.
2. What examples does Paul provide of how the Philippians should be living?
Paul provides four examples: Jesus, himself, Timothy, and Epaphroditus.
3. What is Paul’s desire for the Philippians?
Paul wants them to be unified and full of joy that comes from a desire to humbly serve.
1. What stands out to you in this passage?
2. What do you think the main point is?
3. What would it look like if Christ-followers totally applied this lesson (or obeyed this principle) in their lives today?
4. What is one way you can apply this truth to your life this week?
Source: 4 Powerful Questions to Engage Your Small Group in Any Bible Passage by Jim Egli – July 17, 2017 on ChurchLeaders.com
The article originally appeared here: http://jimegli.com/4-powerful-questions-to-engage-your-small-group-in-any-bible-passage/
Material for this and the other lessons from Philippians are drawn from two primary sources and my own observations: